Can I wash my cat with regular shampoo?

Experts do not recommend shampooing cats with ordinary human shampoo. All the pros and cons of this procedure, as well as the right choice of a special product for bathing the pet are discussed in this article.

Can I wash my cat with human shampoo

In order to wash the cat painlessly for everyone, this should be approached responsibly, in time to accustom the pet and prepare all the necessary means. Sometimes there is no “cat” shampoo on hand, and then the question arises whether the cat can be washed with shampoo for people.

Veterinarians and breeders are strongly against the use of “human” shampoos for grooming a cat.

They make the following arguments:

  • The hair structure of cats and humans is too different. Cats have fewer glands that secrete sweat and sebum. Human shampoos therefore have a much higher surfactant content, which in such large quantities simply dries out the skin and coat of pets.
  • The epidermis (i.e., the upper part of the skin) of a pet is much thinner and more sensitive than that of a human.
  • The value of the acidity index also differs. A cat’s pH is 4-6, while a human’s is 3 to 4.5.
  • A cat has two types of hair – a pinned hair and a down hair. There is an air cushion between them, so the cat’s hair is a whole system, which needs a very delicate treatment (we write more about the structure of the hair of cats at the end of the article, so read to the end, there is a lot of useful information).
  • Human shampoos contain fragrances and often strong-smelling substances, microscopic additives for shine or tint, which are harmful to cats.
  • Many “human” detergents contain extracts of herbs and other natural ingredients that can cause allergic reactions in cats.

Of course, if you wash the cat once “human” shampoo, and even with all the precautions, the harm will be minimal. The main thing is not to do it systematically, it’s better to buy a specialized detergent for the pet. After all, manufacturers develop pet shampoos based on the characteristics of wool, and means for humans with regular use can cause irreparable harm to the appearance and health of the cat. Wool will fade, lose its natural shine, become dull and brittle, will pile up and form tangles.

What to do if there is no suitable shampoo

If there is an urgent need to bathe the pet, and do not have at hand a means for washing cats, then preference should be given to “human” shampoos as follows:

  • Children’s without fragrances (for example, with the scents of apples or peaches) – they have the least harmful substances and have components that allow for bathing “without tears”. Some breeders even give them a special bath for kittens with allergies.
  • Having in the composition of birch tar. They are relevant in the case of herpes or skin irritations in the pet.
  • Based on goat’s milk or koumiss without additional fragrances, well moisturizing coat and skin of cats.

In any case, in these exceptional cases we should choose a product without harsh odor, with a low surfactant content, excluding menthol or pepper.

Cats are adept at fighting off bathing with the "wrong" shampoo

When using such detergents it is better to dilute them much beforehand (up to one table spoon per liter of liquid), and after soaping the pet the foam should be thoroughly (at least three-four times) washed off until the water becomes clear. The pet is then wiped dry with a towel to reduce the licking time.

Cat Shampoos

If bathing your pet is necessary, you should choose an appropriate shampoo. They come in three types:

  • Regular liquid products. They vary by hair type and are sold in any pet store.
  • Dry powder shampoos. Created specifically for animals that are too afraid of water or have thick and long, long-drying coats.
  • Sprays also provide an alternative to water bathing. A special compound is applied to the pet’s coat and rubbed on with a dry cloth. This is a rather expensive way to clean the pet and is not yet very common, although it is effective.

Today, conventional liquid shampoos for cats are still popular. They, in turn, are divided into the following groups.

The easiest way to order the right cat shampoo is from Amazon (this affiliate link):

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Grooming shampoos for cats

These funds also contain a weak concentration of alkali and are designed to improve the appearance of the coat and hair structure, giving them shine and silkiness, preventing excessive loss, embrittlement. Most often, they also contain various vitamin additives and fatty acids.

There are also specialized vitamin shampoos, which are used with oral intake of enriched with micro and macro elements complexes.

There are special shampoos from excessive greasiness of the coat, regulating the sebaceous glands. This is ensured by the inclusion in the composition of these funds herbal extracts, such as tea tree, and antibacterial complexes.

Prophylactic shampoos for dry coats, on the contrary, moisturize and nourish the hair due to substances similar to sebum secretion. The hairs are sort of sealed and become unaffected by ultraviolet light.

The modern industry also produces a wide range of cat detergents for different cat breeds: Bengal, British, Maine Coon, Sphynx. All of these shampoos have different effects on the pets’ fur and skin. For example, “Gracious Sphynx”, in addition to cleansing and nourishing the skin of naked cats, prevents the occurrence of acne, which is so prone to this kind of pets. This is due to the inclusion of chamomile and other therapeutic components.

For Persian cats, a composition is available that nourishes the follicles and facilitates combing of long and thick downy hair, preventing the formation of tangles.

Cosmetic products for cats

These are not only shampoos, but also balms, toners, and tinting compositions. They are most often used in care of show animals to give the cat’s coat a special gloss before competitions.

However, does not recommend the use of tinting shampoos, as they are extremely dangerous to the health of pets.

Why wash a Cat

Cats are licked very often, completely several times a day, and in between are sure to run their tongue over their paws, tail or sides. Nevertheless, in some situations bathing the cat is unavoidable:

  1. Before a competition, show or exhibition. In this case the owner usually has all the necessary specialized products for taking care of the coat.
  2. When heavily soiled, for example, after a long walk in the rain.
  3. When substances have come into contact with the coat that may be hazardous to the pet’s health.
  4. In case of abundant molting. This is especially true for members of long-haired and some semi-long-haired breeds. These pets often suffer during such periods from excessive ingestion of hair clumps.
  5. For therapeutic purposes, in particular in the removal of external parasites.

However, it must be remembered that excessive bathing can lead to a violation of the protective lubrication and, consequently, the loss of luster and health of the coat. Three to four times a year is the optimal number of treatments.

If the cat walks a lot, especially in the summertime at the cottage, you can simply wipe it periodically with a damp cloth and wash only the pads every day.

Similar to the need for bathing, there are situations where this procedure is not allowed:

  • If the animal has recently undergone surgery. Washing should be postponed as long as possible, even after the stitches and bandages have been removed.
  • The advanced age of the pet also imposes a ban on bathing. For an old cat, this is too much stress and the risk of getting sick from hypothermia.
  • You should also not bathe a pregnant or lactating cat. She does not want to smell, stress or hypothermia.
  • The procedure should be postponed even during the cold season, especially if the house is not too warm and there are drafts.

How to bathe a kitten correctly

To bathe a kitten gently, you should use specialized shampoo, only in extreme cases use baby products.

You must be especially careful when bathing the kitten, not to overcool it, not to pour water on its ears and to rub it thoroughly afterwards, not to frighten it and not to stress it.

The cat was persuaded to take a bath

If specialized therapeutic shampoos are used, they are used strictly as prescribed by the veterinarian and the pet is bathed in this case according to the suggested scheme. As a rule, in this case we are talking about anti-allergic means, as compositions for the removal of external parasites until six months of life are not prescribed because of the high toxic effects of the drugs they contain on the body.

If the kitten is show class and it is planned in the future to represent it at exhibitions and competitions, it is better to accustom the baby to the bathing from an early age. Of course, you should not do it in the first and even second month of life, but at three or four the first procedure can take place.

If the kitten has recently moved into a new home, then with a bath have to wait at least two to three weeks, to give him time to adapt.

It is also important to postpone the bathing for at least a month after the vaccinations.

It is important to brush the pet carefully before bathing, because if the tangled hair gets wet, you are likely to form tangles that can only be removed by shaving.

If the baby gets stressed when combing his hair, you should not immediately take him into the bathroom, it is advisable to give him time to calm down and tune out in a positive way.

In addition, you can give him treats and play. In no case do not bathe the kitten immediately after a heavy meal. We need to wait at least two to three hours.

In a container – a bath or basin – pour warm water, preferably at the temperature of the animal’s body, about 100°F (38°C). To prevent paws from slipping on the surface of the container, it is advisable to put a towel on the bottom. You can throw toys in the water, it will distract the kitten’s attention during the procedure. By the way, all of it should take 15 minutes. It is desirable to prepare the water for rinsing in a separate container in advance. The baby should be rinsed from a jug or ladle, and not frightened by the noise of the shower.

Wool should be gently soaped with the fingers of one hand, gently holding the pet with the other.

You can put cotton pads in his ears to protect them, but it is better to wash his face very carefully and lastly, trying not to get water in them – you are risking otitis.

It is better not to touch the ears. If there are any problems it is better to see a veterinarian to have them cleaned, for example if there is a wax plug. Especially if there is a suspicion of an ear mite, this disease is called otodectosis and appears as the formation of characteristic black dots inside the ear.

If after bathing and rubbing the kitten is clearly freezing, it is better to wrap him in a dry towel and carry him in your arms, than to use a hair dryer. Firstly, the noise is very frightening for the baby, and secondly, the hot air dries the hair and makes it brittle.

It is desirable that the first procedure was positive, in a playful atmosphere. After bathing and drying off completely, you should play with your baby and give him a treat, praise.

How to wash if the cat is afraid

A cat’s fur is good at protecting it from overheating and excessive cooling, but when it gets wet, the air cushion between the hairs and the skin fills with water, and the animal starts to get very cold. This is why most pets do not like bathing and try their best to avoid this procedure.

In addition, the scent of detergents is also unpleasant for cats, and their delicate sense of smell is simply shocked by these smells. Special cat shampoos, however, take this criterion into account and do not contain fragrances.

If a cat is not accustomed to bathing from an early age and is afraid of water, this procedure can be very stressful for both the cat and the owner.

To make the cat as uncomfortable as possible, the following rules should be followed:

  • It is advisable to invite someone from the household to help.
  • Pre comb out the hair and trim the claws of the cat.
  • Under no circumstances should you shout at the cat, and speak only in a gentle and soothing tone.
  • It is best to put an anti-slip mat at the bottom of the bathing bowl.
  • Remove anything from the surrounding area that might interfere, fall down, and additionally frighten the cat, such as bottles of shampoo and balms standing on the edge of the tub.
  • Prepare several large dry towels.
  • Prepare water for rinsing in a separate container, it is better to rinse using a jug rather than a shower so that the extra noise does not scare the cat.
  • Fill a basin or bathtub with water at the body temperature of the cat so that its surface is just above the level of the cat’s stomach.
  • You should start the procedure when the cat is relaxed and calm.
  • Go into the bathroom with him, hold him in your arms for a while, talking affectionately.
  • Then gently place it in the water.
  • While the helper is holding the cat, quickly soap his fur with cat shampoo.
  • Then rinse the cat thoroughly but quickly from the ladle, at least three times.
  • Place the cat on the bathroom floor and rub it well with a towel.
  • Then wrap it in a second dry cloth and leave the bathroom.
  • Carry the cat in your arms, soothing and talking to it affectionately.
  • Under no circumstances should you use a hair dryer, this will only scare the pet even more and turn him away from bathing forever.
  • Once the pet is dry enough, put it down on the floor and let it lick itself off.
  • Play, talk affectionately, offer the cat a treat, praise it.

Peculiarities of cat hair

The hair of cats has a number of specific features and is the most dense of all types of covers of pets.

Number of hair follicles per square millimeter of cat’s skin exceeds 200-300 units. For comparison, the most famous merino sheep has this number is 165. Although now there are many peculiar breeds with original and even naked hair, such as a variety of sphynxes.

We have to bathe bald cats even more often than “woolly” cats, because the hair of the latter has the peculiar properties of protection from external influences and is capable to some extent to clean itself.

Hair of a cat consists of the following structures:

  • The heart-shaped layer. This is the main, central part of the hair coat. It is a cluster of keratinized cells, between which are air cells. If the hair is mature, a cavity is formed in place of the core at the top and at the base, enclosed in a protective cocoon.
  • Cortical covering. This is the middle layer. It consists of axial hairs and spindle-shaped cells. They are firmly soldered together, securely cover the core, thus providing rigidity and elasticity of the coat of the cat. This is also where the pigment responsible for the animal’s color is located.
  • The cuticle or scale guard. It covers the cortical layer and consists of elongated flat keratinized cells that have no pigment composition. Their function is only to prevent the penetration of harmful substances, moisture, and pathogenic bacteria. In addition, it is the quality of the scales, their microscopicity and tightness to each other that determines the healthy shine of a cat’s hair.
  • On all layers, cat hair contains keratin in sufficient quantity to ensure water resistance of cat’s coat.

Another feature of hair is that all of its cells are already dead and keratinized. Only the follicle is alive. It is the hair follicle that needs regeneration. It is a special cat, its complex structure formed over the years of long evolution.

It is the quality of the follicle that determines the strength of the hair root and the healthy shine of its hair part. Next to the follicles are the sebaceous glands and fan-shaped muscles. The former are responsible for lubricating the hairs, and the latter lift the hairs when needed. Two hairs grow from each hair follicle – one is a pinnate (covering) hair and the other is a down hair. The hair is long and straight, and ends in a kind of cone at the end. In terms of thickness, it is divided into four classes. The thickest and longest is located rarely, it is guiding.

On the length and thickness of the hairs depends on the type of hair of the cat. Their strength and straightness exclude waviness. The thinner and weaker the covering hairs, the curlier the cat is.

Down hair is much shorter and thinner, wavy. It either has no middle layer, or it is very poorly developed.

Thus, a cat’s hair grows in microscopic tufts, forming complex groups consisting of one guide hair, two to three normal butt hairs, and six to fifteen down hairs.

Hair follicles are located in the epidermis layer not perpendicularly, but at an acute angle, so the hairs always cover the down hairs, protecting them. That is why the lower the ambient temperature of the breed, the thicker its undercoat (more down).

Over the years, many species of cats have mutated, and man has created new breeds and selections, which differ including the type of hair: short (normal and Siamo-oriental group), long, half-long and its complete absence (naked or bald pets).

In order to effectively care for the cat, and shampoo should be chosen the one that is provided for a particular type of hair. It is not necessary to bathe a cat. Nature itself has taken care of the protection of the animal’s skin through the air layer and natural lubrication, and the pet can perform hygienic cleaning on its own with its long and stiff tongue.


What soap can I bathe my cat with if I don’t have cat shampoo?

Although we recommend using special shampoos for cats, you can bathe your cat with soap if necessary. Neutral baby soaps or gentle care soaps with no additional additives are best for this purpose.

Can I use Head and Shoulders on my cat?

If your cat has dandruff or just doesn’t have the right shampoo, and it’s urgent to clean it, then H&S is fine, as The Independent wrote. We recommend being extra careful to avoid shampoo and lather getting into your cat’s eyes, mouth, or ears.

Can I wash my cat with baby shampoo?

Yes, in general there is no problem to bathe the cat with baby shampoo, because it is the safest for the cat. According to experts at PetCoach, baby shampoo may be suitable not only for bathing adult cats, but also for kittens. We, at the same time, reiterate that all this is allowed, if there is no special cat shampoo, and bathe the cat is just necessary.

How often should I bathe my cat?

Cats are actually quite clean animals. They perform daily hygienic procedures over their bodies – they lick off all the excess (if you have several cats, you can witness how they clean each other). At the same time, preventive bathing for a domestic cat should be once a month or a month and a half on average (a recommendation from the National Cat Groomers Institute). You can also choose your pet’s bathing periods yourself, depending on his activity and diligence to get himself dirty ))

Reyus Mammadli/ author of the article

I have had pets since childhood: cats, guinea pigs, rabbits, geese, chickens, ducks, parrots, aquarium fish and dogs (in the yard). Of course, I constantly encountered diseases of pets and treated them. Glad to be able to share my skills and experience, as well as advice on caring for and adapting these critters and birds.

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